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My Hedge Fund Portfolio Keeps Moving Ahead

Date: Friday, October 30, 2009
Author: Bob Carlson, KCI Investing.com

Hedge funds continue to make headlines, and most of them are not good. The big insider-trading case involved a hedge fund firm, and news stories indicate the investment process of the firm was to get an “information edge” that apparently included insider information on a regular basis. Forbes magazine had an article asking “How Dirty Are Hedge Funds?” Its answer was “filthy.”

The latest evidence for Forbes was an academic paper that concluded 21% of hedge funds lie about their legal and regulatory problems and 28% issue either incorrect or unverifiable information about other topics.

You can receive the benefits hedge funds are supposed to have without the high fees, lack of liquidity, uncertainty about investment strategies, and other disadvantages of hedge funds. My portfolio of mutual funds that have hedge fund qualities persists in meeting or surpassing my goals. The portfolio is delivering higher returns than the S&P 500 with less risk. It took a hit in the last half of 2008, but it did not fall as much as the indexes and most portfolios. It lost 13.25% for the last three months of 2008 and 18.49% for all of 2008. Though disappointing, the losses were far less than for the S&P 500.

In the rally, it bounced back faster, widening its long-term return above the S&P 500. It was up 9.88% for the three months ended September 30, 2009, and 4.79% for the prior 12 months. Its performance is ahead of the S&P 500 for all periods but the latest three months, and the portfolio has far less risk and volatility.

My “hedge fund” portfolio is composed of mutual funds that use strategies similar to those followed by the better hedge funds. The strategies include distressed asset investing, deep value investing, and tactical asset allocation. We also have funds that can hedge and leverage their portfolios and funds with "go anywhere" investment strategies. Most can raise cash when they perceive market risks to be high. The portfolio also has special assets such as high yield bonds, international bonds, and real estate investment trusts. What these funds have in common is investment strategies that differ greatly from the conventional approach of only buying stocks or bonds that closely resemble a given market index.

The differences these funds have from each other also are important. Over time different investment strategies have their good and bad returns during different periods. In academic terms, they have low correlations with each other. When a group of funds that are not correlated with each other are put together, they form a portfolio that has much smoother, steadier returns than a traditional portfolio. For example, over 10 years the hedge fund portfolio has about half the volatility as the S&P 500.

Another advantage of the portfolio is its low correlation with the S&P 500. That means our returns and net worth are not closely tied to the returns of the market indexes. While the returns from the stock market indexes have been flat or close to it for the last 10 years, the hedge fund portfolio has returned 8.68% annualized.

The quarter ending Sept. 30 was consistent with the portfolio’s history. Our return was less than the S&P 500 for the quarter, which is not surprising. Because of its diversification, the portfolio trails the stock indexes when there are strong bull rallies. The rest of the time, the portfolio’s returns equal or exceed those of the indexes.

This is a buy and hold portfolio. Because the funds are uncorrelated with each other, there is no reason to make adjustments for the market cycle. The fund managers do that for us. The only changes I make are when there are changes in the funds or when I discover a fund that will enhance the portfolio. For example, Schwab Hedged Equity changed its name and ticker and modified its strategy. Instead of keeping the new version, I recommended selling it and spreading the proceeds among the other funds.

The portfolio includes some non-traditional balanced funds such as Oakmark Equity & Income and FPA Crescent. Among the other funds are Hussman Strategic Growth, PIMCO All Assets, Wintergreen, and Berwyn Income.

The mutual fund “hedge fund” portfolio delivers what traditional hedge funds are supposed to. The portfolio’s fluctuations have a low correlation to the stock market indexes, but the returns equal or exceed those of stocks over the long term. It has the reasonable expenses of no-load mutual funds and their daily liquidity. Even the wealthy who meet the minimum income and net worth requirements for traditional hedge fund investing probably would be better off with this mutual fund portfolio.